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8 Complaints About Being Gay in San Francisco

Updated: Jun 10, 2024 08:59
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Photo by May H. Pham via Wikimedia Commons

It’s a sin when success complains. That’s how I feel as a gay man who moved to San Francisco from what Californians affectionately call “flyover country.” It’s pretty damn great, living here. So what if everything closes at 2am (#4) and there aren’t any bathhouses to go to (#5). Compared to life on the Plains, I certainly can’t complain. That’s why this list will do it for me.

1. All gay men’s houses look the same.

If you’re doing it right, you’ll get invited to someone’s Castro Victorian or illustrious condo once all the bars close. It’s a privilege accessing these spaces, especially for a Brokeass like myself. If my partner and I could throw an afterparty in our 400-square-foot studio, we would. A benefactor, usually well-off, must fill the void between when the house lights and the sun comes up. Some of my best nights end in homes like these.

A theme emerges the more afters you attend. In many homes you’ll find a wellspring of drugs, a sling from Mr. S, triangle LED-rainbow lights. Sex may spill over from the designated play room, mirroring framed, mounted photos of ass and cock. You see care, planning and thought put into maintaining a fun environment and little about the person behind it.

Why does everybody have these!?

If you’ve managed to take me home, it’s because I want to be immersed in you. I knew a couple whose Duboce Triangle home was a perfect reflection of their Wiccan practice. It created a smoky, dim-lit atmosphere with no wall unadorned by art and iconography. The party they threw wasn’t memorable because of drugs or sex, though they were there too. It’s because the couple invited me not only to their home, but to them.

It set a high bar, unfortunately. Imagine the disappointment I feel when a space turns out to be just another copy. It’s the 2024 version of Clairee’s joke in Steel Magnolias. I think of it every time. “All gay men have track lighting. And all gay men are named Mark, Rick or Steve.”

2. Not enough people read.

If you’re a gay San Franciscan reading this, this ain’t about you. It’s our gay siblings that need to crack a book more often, and coffeetable picture books don’t count. Sometimes it’s difficult to square away a little time to read, so we supplement that with online articles like this. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad you’re here. I mean to say, at the risk of sounding like a boomer, that there’s no substitute for the real thing. A book is a gift from the author themselves. It is yours to own. You can underline words you love, skip pages you hate, dog-ear and notate them, write your thoughts in the margins. Your brain responds to/interacts with books in a way that screens will never replace. Reading isn’t only for drag queens. It’s for everyone.
I’d love to be wrong about this. It would thrill me to discover that a majority of the homos I know are closet bibliophiles. Biblio-philes: lovers of books. Like iconic filmmaker John Waters said, “If you go home with somebody and they don’t have books, don’t fuck ’em!”

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3. Everyone has slept with (damn near) everyone.

Live here long enough and the six degrees of separation between you and other gays begin dwindling. It’s part of why Rich Gays like flying to foreign gay destinations (Puerto Vallarta, Berlin, Amsterdam). As your circle of friends grows, so does the sexual overlap. I’ve been told that being single and gay in San Francisco is next to impossible partly because of this. “Everyone’s polyamorous here.” Amen, sister. Before you know it, you have hookups in common with most if not all your gay friends. A straight counterpart would be the politically incorrect term “Eskimo brothers.” It’s a small peninsula we occupy.

This meme is at least six years old.

One good thing to come of this is the frank and open friend swap that sometimes occurs. Say you hook up with someone you know your friend would fuck. You can, with total transparency, play matchmaker. If they’re both down, you’ve fostered a new connection! My partner and I have traded cards to much success. Sure, it feels limiting when pickins get slim. What’s appreciable about that is how it teaches you to have sex for connection, not convenience.

4. Everything closes early.

Even locals share this complaint. At my bar and most others around the city, last call hits at 1:30 AM. Not because we like it (although we do want to leave), but California doesn’t allow liquor sales after 2 AM. If we did stay open, we couldn’t serve drinks. So the house lights come on promptly at 1:45 and if you’re too drunk to take the hint, we’ll tell you. San Francisco’s late-nite gay scene is the community’s to uphold. East Coasters are doubly disappointed to learn this. I think we’re more appreciative of San Francisco since quarantine, and that’s where a lot of our energy goes. Nights aren’t (usually) busy. We end early because we start early, especially now that many are working from home.

The lights are on but is anybody home in this dated Shutterstock image of SF? Answer: lesbians.

5. No bathhouses!

For being a gay Mecca, San Francisco is bafflingly void of bathhouses. City government outlawed them in the eighties as a means to curb the AIDS epidemic. HIV isn’t just manageable now, it’s preventable, rendering San Francisco’s bathhouse ban moot. The last two years have seen these laws repealed, but there’s still a web of red tape to hack through. I hope it isn’t another forty years before I’m able to check in for a raucous night of fun. Nobody’s gonna want me by then!

Bathhouses are important. It’s embarrassing that San Francisco suffers from a dearth of these spaces. Hell, even Kansas City where I grew up had a bathhouse til it closed (RIP Hyde’s). They aren’t just places to meet guys and fuck. They are sites of gay liberation. I have met survivors of the AIDS crisis and listened to their bittersweet stories. Young men who found and loved each other only to fall ill and pass away. Now I know we commune in their memory and thrive not in spite but precisely because of their sacrifices.

I went into detail about this not long ago. See Why San Francisco needs a gay bathhouse.

6. Your friends move to LA or NYC.

Sometimes a rich, kinky fish outgrows his pond. Then the fish hops on Instagram to post to all and sundry that they’re moving: goodbye forever, you factory-reject dildos. I can’t say too much in the way of criticism. That’s how I felt when I left Kansas City.

People move to NYC because the stars are so much brighter there.

I thought I’d left a mid-size city for a major one when I was really a half-step lower. That’s not to speak ill of San Francisco, even if the circuit parties charge fifty to a hundred dollars per cover. What I mean is, since visiting cities like Paris, I’ve seen what a metropolis looks like. Being gay in San Francisco could be a world-class affair. With a little work, we could go from good to extraordinary.

This is why I won’t give up on San Francisco. We’ve got something really special here. If we needed the tech industry to make us special, tech wouldn’t have come here to begin with. I’m always sad when a friend moves away. Conversely, I’m always excited to meet a new San Franciscan. You can bet safely nowadays that, like you, they truly love it here. New minds bring new ideas.

7. Desperately in need of “sober” gay spaces.

In quotes because I’m talking about opening spaces that aren’t centered around alcohol consumption. Many queer folks, including myself, have struggled with drinking, making the bars less than fun. Wicked Grounds was a coffeeshop that catered to the queer and kinky, but it shuttered in 2023. Manny’s used to be a favorite among the literary gays, but that was before its owner faced accusations of Zionism. My fave gay-friendly coffeehouse is Café International, which I love with all my heart, but it closes at 4:30. Late-nite coffee is hard to find no matter who you like to fuck.

“Large oatmilk latte with an extra shot for Pigfucker? Says ‘Pigfucker’ on the cup.”

8. You never escape others’ preconceptions of homosexuality.

I’m not talking about good old-fashioned homophobia, found anywhere across this great nation of ours. Quite the opposite actually.

Let me give you a scenario. You’re gay and tasked with selling clothes to young women. Your boss wants you to drive up sales so you throw out some ideas. Lead with clearance and close with a full-price item, style each outfit with belts, shoes, jewelry, etc. Your boss suggests you “really gay it up out there” because “girls love it.”

What do you do?

Surprise! We found you on Sniffies!

Yes, there is pressure to market your gayness even here. You move to San Francisco for the freedom to be queer; capitalism moved here to profit off it. Lots of employers have tried taking advantage of my sexuality. Sex sells, homo-sex included. Managers feel free to do shit like proclaim they’re an ‘ally’ and ask if you’re a top or bottom. I just want Fridays off. I once had a manager ask me to “gay it up” so women would buy more clothes. She now works at TV Guide.

The commercialization of gayness distorts gay people into gay products to consume and regurgitate in rainbows. It makes working in San Francisco an exercise in honoring boundaries. A fake hag isn’t cool. It’s homophobia turned inside out. Instead of prohibiting queer-coded behaviors, they encourage you to gay it up for revenue. Employers have swung so far to the left, they came full circle. Be careful how you let them commodify you.

San Francisco might just be the best city in America to be gay in. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Wherever you go, no matter how true to yourself you may be, someone’s gonna try and tell you who you are. You only get one life, so treat others well and live how you see fit. None of it will matter once this great city slides into the sea. 

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Jake Warren

Jake Warren

A Potawatomi nonfiction writer and Tenderloin resident possessing an Indigenous perspective on sexuality and a fascination with etymological nuance. Queer decolonial leftist, cannabis industry affiliate, seasoned raver, and unofficial earthquake authority.